Restoring the Pastel-Colored Joy in Jazz: Laura & Anton

The breeze in her voice is everything: “Castles in the Air” from Laura Weinbach and Anton Patzner has a tempo and mood that glide the song gently forward. Just released, the single is another gem from the duo who pair together like a PBJ. Also new, the well-timed (and fabulously named) “I’m Not Really in the Christmas Mood This Year” has a Great American Songbook vibe and, if one is looking for it, is subtle in its reference to the state of global society right now (“The tenderness is lost, it’s clear”).

The instrumentation is consistently, exactly enough; Patzner on piano and violin, Weinbach on guitar and vocals, Scott Brown on bass. They cook up thoughtful, sweet music that is easy to enjoy and breathe through, allowing artfully directed sunbeams in here and there.

Your musical training consisted of…?

LAURA I was born to a pretty musical family. My mother was a pianist and piano teacher starting all four of us kids on piano at the age of three. I quit piano by age six and didn’t have any formal music training ‘til much later. Informally, however, I became well-acquainted with jazz singers of the past through punishment– when I was around 12 I would frequently get into trouble. My only option towards redeeming myself was by learning all the songs on cassette tapes my father made for me. He’d say, “If you can memorize all these tunes and sing them back to me along with the recordings, then you can be un-grounded.” So I’d immediately run to my room and start memorizing. On those tapes were the voices of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, Astrud Gilberto, Edith Piaf, Blossom Dearie, Dakota Staton and more. At 17 I started learning classical guitar and eventually went on to minor in music with an emphasis on classical guitar at UC Santa Cruz. 

ANTON  My family is very musical, with professionals going back many generations on my dad’s side. Both of my parents are music teachers and classical players. They got me private lessons growing up, first on piano when I was five and then switching to violin when I was eight. It was some pretty serious classical instrument training. I mostly learned jazz, pop, arranging and production on my own, though, just playing with other people and picking up whatever knowledge I could find. I’m still obsessed with YouTube tutorials. I’m always trying to learn more.

What was the “aha” moment when you decided to work together?

LAURA We were at a party with our friend/fellow musician Steve Taylor. He was telling us all about this new portable amp that ran on six AA batteries. It was the Roland Mobile Cube and he was using it to play on the street with. When Anton heard these words of enthusiasm coming from our friend, he was so inspired that he said to me, if I buy you the Roland Mobile Cube, will you try playing on the street? I said sure. So the following weekend Anton got it and we went to Noe Valley in San Francisco, and set up in front of a little wine bar. Anton decided to try playing violin along with me since, why not? After our very first song we got tipped $100 from a passer-by. The owner of the wine bar liked what he heard and invited us in for a glass of wine, some bread and a cheese plate. It was all so perfectly romantic and that was basically it. From that point on we kept playing together on the street and eventually many other stages around the world. 

What was the process like to get in sync with each other musically?

ANTON  Laura was fairly new to playing compared to me when we first started. I tried to do my best to help her and teach her what I knew without being too cocky or overbearing. That wasn’t always easy. There were probably times when I seemed like a total know-it-all brat, and there were times when she just didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. But eventually I got better at communicating and Laura got really good at music, really fast. Now it’s kind of a different story. We’ve just been playing together so long that we can kind of just go. The thing we’re working on now is figuring how to write and make records together. It’s still not magic every time but I think we’re getting closer.

How important is reading an audience when you perform?

LAURA  Certainly one of the most important things. One must become sensitive to the energetic response of an audience in order to have a conversation. If you’re not doing that, then you may as well be playing in a room by yourself. 

How do you choose your music?

LAURA  Well we write a lot of it, but in terms of the covers, I just tend to gravitate towards the timeless classics, or mostly jazz songs that were written for singers between the 1940s and 60s. I just like those songs probably because the melodies were often designed specifically to enable the voice to shine. 

ANTON  Laura’s dad is a really big, almost-aggressively avid fan of jazz and Bossa Nova. Every Christmas he gives us new a list of songs to learn for his present and a lot of them end up making it into our regular repertoire. I might give credit for as much as half of our song selection.

Why a soft spot for romantic French classics, such as “La Vie En Rose” etc.?

LAURA  Same answer as above, really. Just a beautiful, timeless melody and wonderful piece for the voice to really shine. Also, who doesn’t have a soft spot for songs like that? 

ANTON  The first time I heard that song was in college and it immediately became one of my favorite songs. It’s the melody. It’s a great melody.

What type of venue do you most prefer?

LAURA  It depends on which band I’m playing in. For Laura & Anton I like seated jazz clubs or supper clubs.  For Foxtails Brigade (our other indie-pop project) my preference would be to perform at big festivals (ideally with really good sound) where we get to see lots of other amazing artists as well. 

ANTON – I’m a fan of a nightclub with tables for jazz shows. Right now those are on hold for us but we’ve figured out another way to do shows: online with live streaming. I’ve actually really been enjoying our weekly livestream. We play every Monday night 7 PT on our Facebook and YouTube pages and people tune in from all around the world. It’s fun in ways that don’t really work in the stage-performance setting. We do a lot of chatting with the fans, answering questions and playing games in addition to playing the tunes. I like it and I’m hoping we can keep it up even after the world opens back up.

How have you pivoted during this challenging time for artists?

LAURA  We started a weekly live stream called Parlour Shift. Every other week we do a Laura & Anton show and the other weeks we do Foxtails Brigade material. It’s a way for us to keep playing music in a live setting and keep in touch with our fans. 

ANTON   We’ve taken the opportunity to get more serious about recording. I’m a producer by trade and I’m able to make records in our house. We’ve been putting a lot of time into that this year and now we’ve committed to doing regular (almost every month) single releases for both Laura & Anton and for Foxtails Brigade.

What inspired “Live Recordings”?

ANTON  It’s a collection of some of our most popular performances from YouTube and a couple other things we had. When we started doing jazz songs on YouTube we didn’t know it would get as popular as it did. We thought it would just be something our fans would like and maybe help us get a couple of gigs. One day I looked at our view count on “La Vie En Rose” and I discovered that overnight it had gotten 20K views. That was the start of a crazy time. There were a ton of people writing to us, making requests, flying us places. We had a cameo in an Alec Baldwin movie (Blind). So we just went with it and kept putting up more jazz videos. People kept asking for an album so we finally put a small one together. It’s very stripped down because it’s just the two of us (three on a couple songs) playing live. The new singles we’re releasing are a much bigger production, with percussion and orchestral elements. 

How does your overall approach to the music differ from your work in Foxtails Brigade?

LAURA  The music we play in our Laura & Anton duet is specifically jazz and we do a lot of old covers in that project. The music of Foxtails Brigade is all original indie art pop, not jazz at all. It’s a different beast entirely. The sounds of these two projects shape the visual aesthetic as well from the album art work to the clothes. Laura & Anton gets hired for a lot of wedding gigs for example, so we are often dressed kinda fancy for that project, whereas for Foxtails Brigade we sometimes have costume concepts that match our album art or projections (often involving black and white stripes and themes). 

How are you preparing for when things open up- performance spaces etc.?

LAURA  Not really preparing for that. Will just roll with it whenever and however that happens. Hopefully a tour. 

ANTON   We’ll have a bunch of new recordings so maybe when things open up we can put them all on a new album.

Best advice you can offer to beginning musicians?

LAURA  Listen to yourself as much as you can. Don’t just assume you always sound good.

ANTON  My dad told me to play with as many people as I could and I really think that helped me a lot. You learn from everyone you play with. 

Plans for the rest of 2020? 

LAURA  Going to release more original music from both Laura & Anton and Foxtails Brigade. Continuing with weekly Parlour Shift episodes. Starting more new recordings (a Laura Weinbach solo acoustic album, perhaps). 

For more information visit https://lauraandantonmusic.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artists.

(c) 2020 Debbie Burke

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